Diary of a Free Range Priest: failure


My father once fixed the car. 'Once' being the operative word here. It was the early 1970s, my brothers and I young school-aged kids, the dog who followed us everywhere. The car was a green Vega wagon, which we named Peabody. I loved that car. Years later, after we had sold it to a friend's son, we learned he had totaled it in an accident. All three of us kids cried. So one day Peabody was not doing so well and my dad, Nick, decided he would just fix her. How hard could it be? 'Had he ever fixed a car before?', you might ask. 'Irrelevant!' would be the reply. Failure was not an option.

I will never forget the day: Nick carefully taking all (it seemed like all) the parts from under the Vega's hood, and laying them, in order, out on the driveway. Then he read the manual and searched for the problem. Then the swearing began. My mother rushed us out to play - even the dog - and said, 'don't come home till dinner' (it was the 70s, you could still do those kinds of things). We didn't dawdle.

Hours later we returned. All of the parts were gone from the driveway, save two. The tension was thick in the air. Dad got in the car, and turned the key. We all held our breath, and then... it started! Peabody was fixed! General amazement and joy. Were we surprised? Well, yes and no. Based on my father's temperament and general automotive knowledge, it would seem failure was inevitable. But in our family, we never let a little thing like not knowing how get in our way.

Those two last parts got put in the kitchen drawer, and there they stayed for years, a symbol of attitude over experience.

The Caimano way, we jokingly call it. Never mind that we have no idea what we are doing, we are sure we will succeed. It doesn't always turn out pretty, I will say. It leads to a lot of ribbing each other over our crazy ideas and schemes, and some spectacular failures. And yet, I am glad I have inherited this gene. I am often puzzled by those who are caught in indecision - is this path better than that one? What if something goes wrong? I always feel like the path I am on is the right one, because it's the one I am on. It's a blessing, but a mixed one.

Week two of being a free range priest, and I feel like all the parts are on the driveway and I am just now reading the manual. Except there isn't even really a manual. I am just looking at those parts thinking, 'how I am going to put them back together again?' There's a tiny bit of swearing. I am having some moments, not of regret (at all), but of being that cartoon character that runs right off the edge and then keeps running into thin air, until he looks down and realizes it. Either I will grab a hold of something, or I will fall.

We in the God business talk a lot about faith and how it pushes us to the edge and out of our comfort zone, but then when we get there we tend not to like it one bit. Or at least that's how I experience it. I am very aware in this moment that I am not in charge, and I don't know what is going to happen next. And I am not particularly thrilled by that.

A friend of mine, George Linney, said something a few months ago that has stuck with me and helped me: 'maybe God is calling me to humiliation', he said. I was envious of his faith, and still am, and also I am strangely comforted by this thought. Maybe God is calling me to humiliation. For what? I think. For the love of God. Failure is not an option.

Well, then, ok. It's the Caimano way. Leap first, then look. And hold your breath.